If I were a shoe, I’d be a Birkenstock. I first became familiar with these wondrous shoes after Bill and I went to Germany in the early 90s. As we walked around Bonn with my cousin and his wife, these shoes were everywhere. It seemed that every third pair of German legs was being transported around that beautiful city on a pair of Birkenstocks.
“Those shoes,” I finally asked my cousin’s wife after my curiosity was sufficiently piqued. “Are they good?”
“Oh, yes,” she said enthusiastically. “Very comfortable and good for your feet. But not very pretty, I think.”
Pretty or not, I was intrigued. When we returned home, after having to do an extensive search of North Jersey to find them (apparently Americans don’t feel the love for Birkenstocks like the Europeans do), I bought my first pair. They were expensive, but I was sure that thousands of German feet could not be wrong. So I wore them one day but after a few hours I realized I had made a costly mistake. They were horrible. Not comfortable at all. My feet hurt, my wallet hurt, and I was sad that they weren’t what I thought they would be. I put them back in the box and shoved them in a dark corner of my closet for at least a year.
Then one day, guilt over the purchase price got the better of me and I decided to give them another try. I wore them once. Then I wore them again. And again. Soon I wanted to wear nothing else on my feet. Once I had broken them in, I realized, they had become my own personal shoe. I don’t know the exact science or mechanics behind them, but apparently when pressure from walking and heat from your feet are given time, the foot creates indentations in the cork bottoms that are like molds of your feet. They become like slippers, only better because you can wear them out in public. I’ve been obsessed with them ever since. I wear my Birkenstocks almost every day—winter or summer, clogs or sandals. I even have one pair of dressy black ones.
To walk in a nicely broken-in pair of Birkis is to talk with an old friend—it molds to you and you to it. Even after being put on the shelf for the winter months, come spring, my sandals still fit me perfectly. No need to get re-acquainted or experience another awkward break-in phase again.
This is exactly how I feel about certain people in my life. Old friends. Good friends who have moved away. Cousins that I don’t see often enough. I am so intrinsically molded to them and them to me that we become like my Birkenstocks: permanently bound to each other, gently molded by time and experience, sheltered by well broken-in straps of love and kindness. I feel good around them. I feel like myself.